Carol Jenkins’ grandfather had 15 children — nine girls and six boys — and he sent all his daughters to college. In the 1920s, Jenkins said, he “believed his daughters deserve to have a fair shot in the world and he was going to give them a college education.”
By sending his daughters to college, Jenkins said, that Black Alabama farmer created “several generations now of doctors, lawyers, writers. … I call it the small army that came out of that little plot of land in Lowndes County, Alabama.”
Alongside her work in the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality, where she is co-president and CEO, Jenkins was a journalist for 30 years, and served as the founding president of the Women’s Media Center. She will present “On the Work Toward Passage and Enactment of the Equal Rights Amendment” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 30, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of the Week Five Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “The Women’s Vote Centennial and Beyond.”
Journalism was Jenkins’ dream, and in 1968, newsrooms were covering “rioting situations where they found it useful to have a person of color.”
“They were looking for Black people. They were looking for women,” Jenkins said. “You’ll see at that time that most of the people of color who got hired were Black women, because they filled two HR needs, so to speak.”
Jenkins started out as a researcher, then was promoted to a writer then to an on-air talent. From there, she worked at NBC News for 23 years.
At the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality, Jenkins works on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would codify that discrimination based on sex is illegal and allow the U.S. government to form laws that would better protect women and girls.
“Every day, when I get up, my first thought is, ‘What could we do today to bring equality to girls and women, to people of color? How can we move this forward, because we are so far behind?’ … The Equal Rights Amendment is literally putting a fix on our Constitution that wasn’t there. Women are not included.”
The Constitution states that any amendment must receive a two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and then three-fourths, or 38, of the states must ratify it. Jenkins said that ERA was first proposed almost 100 years ago in 1923 and voted through Congress in 1972, but only 35 states chose to ratify the amendment. In 2017, Nevada ratified ERA, and Illinois and Virginia followed suit in 2018.
The Department of Justice then said that because of a time limit that was in the introduction of the amendment, the ERA has lost its opportunity to be passed.
“What we say is that there is no time limit on equality,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said that the House and 38 states have agreed to remove the deadline from the ERA, and she and others are working to pass the amendment through the Senate.
“When the Constitution was written by mostly slaveholding wealthy white men … slaves and women were left out,” Jenkins said. “… If I can make a contribution to ensuring that my daughter and her children do not have to face the same obstacles to success, then I want to work on that.”
In addition to her work at the ERA Coalition, Jenkins hosts the three-time New York Emmy-nominated show, “Black America.” She said the show was inspired by “African American Legends,” a show in which Roscoe Brown would interview “all of the heavyweights in the black community.” Brown and Jenkins’ fathers were both Tuskegee Airmen.
“(Brown and I) had a conversation, and he anointed me as worthy of being a successor. … I was so honored,” Jenkins said.
“Black America” is currently in its sixth season.
“We always ask two questions. The first is, ‘How do you place yourself in Black America, where do you fit in, what do you do, what are your influences?’” Jenkins said. “We always end with the statement, the strength, the power of Black America, and those have been fascinating, fascinating answers.”
Jenkins is also working on a miniseries about her uncle, who she also wrote about in Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire. Gaston was the grandchild of slaves and his mother cooked for wealthy Alabama families.
“(Gaston) worked in the coal mines and started selling insurance and ultimately became a multimillionaire with about 10 businesses — not only insurance, but banking and The A. G. Gaston Hotel, which was famous for being the headquarters for Martin Luther King Jr. during the desegregation of Birmingham,” Jenkins said.
For her Thursday presentation, Jenkins will discuss the progress that has been made to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and why ratifying it would be pivotal.
“It’s a complicated, convoluted step forward, a step back. Women are working, they run into obstacles, they continue to work, and then (experience) surprise breakthroughs,” Jenkins said. “It’s been a long, long, long effort.”
This program is made possible by the Travis E. and Betty J. Halford Lectureship Endowment.